Indifference to Christ: or Bethesdaism - extracted from a private letter

J. N. Darby.

<20013E> 205

As to indifferentism, take a case: Socinian blasphemies against Christ are concerned. If you insist on walking in communion, helping others to go there, though not holding Socinian views and believing them to be a denial of Christ, you thereby maintain constant regular communion with them, not for yourself only but for all Christians; for, as it is no personal right, there must be equal liberty for all with yourself. Thus general communion with Socinians as a body should be an allowed path in the church of God. It is no question of opinion or way of dealing with the evil, but of the existence and standing of the church of God, which is nothing, or the pillar and ground of the truth as to Christ. The question is as to the church's path: is it to acquiesce in principle in all her members having communion with the deniers of the Lord and her too? This is indifferentism as to Christ.

When one asks for scripture for not being allowed to walk if he please - it is his opinion - in communion with those who deny the Lord, insensibility to Christ's glory is there, unable as I may be to convince you of it, I am clear enough to act on it before the Lord. We are so entirely opposed in first principles as to what Christ is, that further inquiry is needless. I have no thought of walking with those who think the church means communion with blasphemies against Christ. If the application of the principle to Bethesda, because they are Christians, is challenged, let it be noted that the other principle (namely, that it is a question of an opinion as to a line of conduct) is false as a general one. It is a question of the ground the church of God stands on: only it is urged that we have no right to apply to Bethesda, the true principle that the church of God ought not to allow universal communion with blasphemy. The question then is, whether in this particular case the principle is rightly applied; not whether individuals are saints, but the public walk of the church.

Now the public conduct of Bethesda has been indifference to blasphemies against Christ as the ground of communion, voted by the whole body and signed by the labouring brethren. They recite some of the blasphemies, so that they knew them to be such, receive persons who came from, and declare they are and will continue to be in communion with, the bodies where these blasphemies are taught and were formed by and for the teacher and defender of them. I will not inquire of them whether they hold them or not. In point of fact some, if not all, did hold them and were active in propagating them. Their teachers declare that, if these principles are not accepted, they will not minister any more, and the body vote them right. They do this in spite of remonstrance on every side, where the blasphemies were confessed and known, defended by their author, and confessed by those delivered.

206 The real question then is: Is the church of God to accept communion with blasphemers of Christ as a principle, and whether individuals are to be allowed to impose on the church their judgment and walk, which affirm it should do so? Bethesda has as a body declared that her principles are that, when she knows blasphemies are in question, she will in spite of all Christians receive those involved in them. You choose in your private opinion to justify, that is, to identify yourself with her, and dare the church to reject you. My answer is, you are in the worst kind of sin - worse than any act of sin when you do it deliberately, as you avow. Do you require scripture to shew the church should not receive blasphemers of Christ's Person? Bethesda has done so deliberately and in principle. You think right to identify yourself with Bethesda; that is, you will sin, you claim the liberty to sin if you have not done it, and require the church to admit you with this claim (that is, to put her sanction upon your sin by receiving you knowingly into her communion). The church is guilty of it if she does, and ceases to be a church at all, for the church of God is not the deliberate sanction of sin. It is true that many had become so lax, that common action was in certain cases impracticable, and individual faithfulness was called for and the reproach that always accompanies it incurred.

If scripture be soberly required to prove that saints should not be indifferent to blasphemies in their public walk, "Cease to do evil," would be enough; "From such turn away," "Him that bringeth not this doctrine, receive not into your house." Can I in spirit more effectually sustain and help such doctrines than by receiving into communion those who are in them and support them, and actively in spite of remonstrance on all sides? Bethesda has done this.

207 Mr. M. declared that Mr. J.L.H. had done a work of darkness, and maintained to the full their letter which justified their reception when he well knew what the doctrine was. All I did was to write and visit them till he refused to receive me as a brother. J.E.B. and R.C. went in vain. They preferred thirty or forty brethren leaving them to breaking with these blasphemers when they knew them. Now no brother has a right to force God's church, for that is the real matter, to acquiesce in such a course. We had broken with these persons as blasphemers: do you need scripture to prove that right? Bethesda receives them, thereby saying, you shall be in communion with them. I say, No, I shall not, and I will not go to you more than to Compton Street. You shall not force me to communion with sin because you choose to receive it into your bosom. You deliberately say, I am one with Bethesda, and you will force the church to be in communion with them; for if I receive you I receive all; and if so, why not go there and put my name and vote to their act? I refuse to acquiesce.

You speak of your opinion and mine. Am I, is the church, to be in deliberate communion with the denial of Christ? If unable to convince others of sin, I will not walk in it, but cast myself on the Lord without fear, and take a fresh start in the principles I always held and acted on, that Christ and blasphemies against Christ were never meant to be together, and the church. It is an opinion I must act upon. I suppose nothing. It is or at least was deliberately decided at Bethesda, that blasphemies should be admitted. I call this indifferentism to Christ. What other name could I call it? Some weighty reason is needed for such a separation, and it is but fair dealing to say what it is. You identify yourself with this avowedly; for communion is identification with the ground of the meeting. Hence you are guilty of the same sin. You talk of rejecting the doctrine; but if there is any difference, this makes the matter worse, because you know the evil of it, and help it on by receiving it into communion. You can hardly require scripture to prove that church communion does not mean that Christ and blasphemy of Him should be together in principle, even if the people be Christians. But this is the deliberate conduct and status of Bethesda. You will say they deny it: I do not ask them, because they have signed, voted, and acted on it.

208 I have no doubt that in Thyatira is the Spirit's picture of popery. Do you think people should continue in that? I do not enter into the Seven Churches, because adducing such passages of obscure interpretation to judge the path of plain separation from plain iniquity, is at once condemnation of those who do so, but as you do, I ask you this: do you think you should remain in Laodicea to be spued out of Christ's mouth? It proves too much and therefore nothing. You must not be surprised if others decline principles which lead to such a course.

Bethesda has received blasphemers and laid it down as a principle; and they are according to scripture partakers of their evil deeds, as are others who boast themselves clear. It is, I think, the grossest indifference to the honour of Christ I ever met with. That is no light word. It is the pith and gravamen of the whole matter. You would force me into acting on your principle and Bethesda's. I see too clearly what the meaning and effect of my act would be to hesitate a moment, however I may grieve. I may walk alone, I am not the first. I began alone, but will not join in what I believe and see is slighting the Lord. It is the principle of indifference to the doctrine of Christ that such blasphemies are to be uninquired into, so that communion with them is legitimate; that is, that the church of God is not the pillar and ground of your truth. Once accept that (and accepting you is accepting it), and the whole standing of the church is gone.

Let the question be fairly put and inquired into: Has or has not Christ been blasphemed, and the blasphemy deliberately smothered up, and thus Christ slighted and dishonoured? If the answer be, Yes, do you mean to say that I ought to go on in communion with this?